Food for thought: Marketing to stop the demand for ivory

How could the same marketing principles we use to create demand be used to offer recommendations to eliminate the demand for ivory?

“Ivory Tusk Chinese Village” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In How Killing Elephants Finances Terror, National Geographic writer Bryan Christy managed to infiltrate the African ivory trade with fake ivory tusks with GPS devices in them to track the supply of ivory. I definitely commend their efforts and am excited to see “Nat Geo” taking such an active role.

Their article about the project tackles the supply side of the equation, but not the demand side. Most often, to kill a market, you need to address both, which got me pondering: How could the same marketing principles we use to create demand be used to offer recommendations to eliminate the demand for ivory?

Here are my top two recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Socially stigmatize owning ivory

Considering the prices to own ivory (the National Geographic article cites $1,000 for a pair of chopsticks made of ivory and carved tusks in the six figures), they are a luxury good, which means that they are purchased to fulfill a social status need vs. solve a problem.

Most of the ivory is purchased in Asia and I don’t have experience marketing in those cultures, but if it were in the United States, my recommendations (after market research) would most likely be to create an image campaign where people who own ivory are positioned as “uncultured,” “unintelligent,” etc.

However, that’s been done with other products (such as real animal fur) with very good results, but not elimination entirely. For this, you would have to somehow take away the high price tag as the high prices themselves signal “luxury” and “social status” to most. You would also need to find a way to heavily increase the value of the carving arts with other sustainable materials.

Recommendation 2: Make ivory undesirable

One bad product experience can easily turn a customer off for life and will most likely result in a significant amount of negative word of mouth. With this in mind, is there a way to create a negative product experience for purchasers of ivory? What if those $1,000 ivory chopsticks always broke during first use? What if the beautiful white ivory carvings turned an ugly color after a few days?

This one is much trickier to recommend an execution for, but if making the actual experience of owning ivory negative, we could very quickly reduce or eliminate demand.

What would you recommend to eliminate demand?

Age vs. Generation: Choose the correct metric for marketing and advertising

A young girl staring at an Apple Computer
“…next generation” by zeitfaenger.at, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AdWeek recently published an article and infographic comparing what Millennials and Generation Z want from brands. In reality, reports like this are a comparison of age groups, not generations, and should be used only to impact decisions right now, not long-term.

As consumers age, their brand preferences, media preferences, privacy concerns, priorities, etc. change. So, to say a 13 year old’s preference for YouTube and a 30 year old’s preference for Amazon is because of what generation they belong to isn’t accurate. More likely, these preferences are based on their age.

Are generational studies useful? Yes! If you are communicating with the generation right now, the AdWeek Infographic and Deep Focus study can be incredibly helpful in developing marketing and advertising campaigns (although I’d like to see a larger sample size).

Generational reports also provide some interesting indicators as to how their preferences will change over time for predictive purposes. But to do this accurately, you’d have to look and see how previous generations have changed over time as they aged for comparisons.

As with all market intel, think about your end goal, and then work backwards from there to find the right intel to use.

Photo: “…next generation” by zeitfaenger.at, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Considering conducting a survey? Remember that what people say they do or say is important to them does not usually match their behavior

According to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (2012 Cohort), 73% of students say tutoring is somewhat or very important. But, only 29% of students participate in tutoring at their college.  So, students say tutoring is important, but that isn’t reflective in their behavior.

What people say they do or say is important to them does not usually match their behavior

This isn’t a new phenomenon and not shocking, but it does serve as a good reminder that what people say they do or say is important to them does not usually match their behavior. Why is this? There are a wide variety of reasons:

  • They understand it’s important, but it’s just not important ENOUGH. We have a limited amount of time and so many choices of what to do with our time. It’s not a factor of what is important to us, but what is MOST important to us. I may know that exercising six times per week is important, but, after a sleepless night, I might deem skipping my morning workout and getting some sleep as more important.
  • They may feel that a behavior is important for someone else, just not them. For the tutoring example, a student with a 4.0 GPA may truly believe that tutoring is important, just not for them. They may feel it’s very important for students who aren’t making a 4.0.
  • Sometimes, it’s not socially acceptable to say something isn’t important. As an extreme example, if you conducted a survey asking if saving the lives of starving children was important, I can’t see anyone saying no. But, in reality, there might be some people who honestly don’t feel that it is important. It’s just that they don’t feel comfortable expressing that view because it’s not socially acceptable to do so.
  • They don’t really know what their behavior is. We’ve seen this in study after study. People don’t know how many calories they consume or how much time they spend on Facebook. And, the infamous advertising question, “How did you hear about us?” they don’t know (for more on this, read Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI).

How this relates to conducting surveys

So, having people self-report what’s important to them isn’t usually the best way to conduct a survey because it doesn’t really reflect behavior.  Having people self-report their behavior is slightly better, but as I said above, it has limitations as well. The best way, and unfortunately usually the most costly way, to really understand behavior is to actually track behavior.

What this says to us in higher education

Well, the good news is, we’ve done a great job of telling students that tutoring is important. The bad news is, it hasn’t resulted in students actually taking advantage of  tutoring services. It’s time to rethink our marketing strategy.

What it says to us about our own lives

What’s really important to you? Do a time and money study and you will know. Track how you spend your time and how you spend your money for a month. I’ve done this before and trust me, it’s eye-opening.